Across the former Soviet Union, JDC’s local call centers, operated by specially trained volunteers, have a dual goal: maintaining contact with clients to monitor services and alleviating loneliness and providing moral support. During the coronavirus pandemic, these call centers have shared best practices to help operate smaller hotlines in additional locations and conducted webinars on providing emotional support remotely during crisis conditions, training more volunteers, and engaging volunteers who work from home.
Olga Afanasyeva of Dnipro, Ukraine, has spent most of her life as a store manager and a laboratory assistant at the Yuzhmash manufacturing plant, which helps build rockets. But in the last two years, the 60-year-old has focused her attention on volunteering within her city’s Jewish community, working a weekly shift at the elderly call center coordinated by the JDC-supported Hesed Menahem social welfare center.
In recent weeks, Olga’s work has only grown more important. Here’s her story, in her own words:
When I heard that Hesed was organizing a call center, I said to myself: “I need to work there.” After all, I love people and I love helping others. I understand that people need to feel needed by other people — and I knew my calls could help with that. I call clients once a week from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
I’ve come to really know the clients I call, so I know what they like: One loves music, another loves theater, and another is a big fan of classic literature. With that in mind, I try to read some new information about their favorite topics, so we have something to talk about. I like to help clients remember their childhood, and we talk about everything — families, the news, even politics (but we try to joke about topics like that)
One of my clients is a former journalist who is now completely alone, following the death of his mother. Lonely, this man never had his own children or family — but still, he has a great sense of humor. He always tells me great jokes, and we quote our favorite writers to each other. Communicating with me is an integral part of his life, and he’s told me our conversations inspire him. We try to be positive even when talking about things like going to the hospital.
“We have to keep going — because they trust us.”
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, I continue to call my clients, though I now do it from home. I never thought about stopping my calls, because I know there are no lonely people who have no one but JDC, Hesed, and us volunteers to rely on. If these clients don’t receive their usual call, they start to panic: “What happened? Why didn’t you call?” That’s why we have to keep going — because they trust us.
Our clients receive lots of different information from the media about the quarantine situation and the coronavirus pandemic we’re all facing. My additional task is to explain the best practices related to hygiene and why they should be followed to protect ourselves from disease. I encourage my clients to wash their hands, and I’ve convinced them it’s safer to stay at home at their age.
My husband supports my work at the call center because he, too, understands how elderly Jews in our city live and their complex needs. He and I both know our call center is vital for these lonely people, now more than ever.